The state is proposing the first-ever rules for viewing the creatures at two popular spots off the Kona Coast
By Christie Wilson
Tours offering close encounters with manta rays have become a must-do activity for many Hawaii visitors, especially at two sites off the Kona Coast where vessels deposit hundreds of snorkelers and scuba divers nightly to observe the graceful marine creatures as they feed on thick columns of zooplankton attracted by artificial lighting.
Sixty to 70 vessels — ranging from outrigger canoes to boats carrying 50-plus passengers — are currently engaged in manta ray viewing tours off Kona, according to state officials, resulting in overcrowding, safety concerns and user conflicts that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is hoping to curb by drafting Hawaii’s first-ever manta ray viewing regulations.
Companies running the tours already must possess commercial use permits issued by the state, but the proposed rules would require an additional permit created specifically for commercial manta ray viewing that would come with a monthly fee of $300.
Snorkelers on a manta tour Friday night in Makako Bay held on to a raft equipped with lights to attract zooplankton that, in turn, draw in the filter-feeding manta rays, whose wingspans can reach 22 feet or more.
COURTESY KELLER LAROS
A manta ray swims past master diver trainer Keller Laros during an afternoon tour off West Hawaii.
COURTESY DOUG FARR / FARROUT PHOTOS